Translating Employees

Speaking the Employee Language

If you’ve ever heard of the book Men are From Mars, Women are Venus, then you know what I mean when I say that people sometimes speak two different languages. This got me to thinking about bosses and their employees. I’ve often had exit interviews where employees spilled their guts about the misdoings of their boss, only to hear manager’s say, “Well, why didn’t they say anything!” or “I never knew that!” This leads me to believe that supervisors may have lost the delicate touch of “Speaking Employee.” Here are a few examples:

“No, I’m fine.” OR “No, it’s okay.”

Translation: “I’m not fine.” OR “It’s not okay.”
In fact, most employees say this after having ideas squashed, too much put on their plate, or after an error was pointed out. A good indicator of this phrase is the tone and physical expression or gestures that come with it. If it sounds like it was said in a huff, chances are, they’re in a huff.

“Got a minute?” OR “Got a sec?”

Translation: “Got an hour?”
This is an indicator that the employees have some needs, emotions, or thoughts that they need to run by you. When a head pops in your door with this question, they want your undivided attention. Seriously. All your attention. Stop your email, silence your phone, shut the door and give it to them.

“When’s my next performance evaluation?”

Translation: “I need feedback…”
Employees crave interaction with their managers. Every employee wants to be rewarded when they do well or corrected when they make errors. Unfortunately, performance evaluations have been ingrained in the fabric of corporate culture as the formal way to give feedback. Use this cue as the “canary in the coal mine” that you need spend some time with your employees. Coach and counsel them year round, not just once a year for the matrix paper snore fest.

“I never knew that.” OR “No one ever told me.”

Translation: “I feel out of the loop…”
Communication is probably the number one complaint I get from employees in the company surveys and exit interviews. When an employee is continually subverted and left out of important steps in a project they start to feel obsolete. To top that off, if the concern isn’t addressed, employees begin assuming negative reasons for the lack of the “heads up.” Instead try a five minute convo per day hitting the changes from the previous day, then there’s an avenue for open communication.

“When do you need it by?”

Translation: “I’m overloaded…” OR “I need to prioritize…”
Employees who have free time never ask this question, because they don’t have other deadlines. Employees who are overloaded get anxious with the amount of projects they are doing and start prioritizing based on due date. And it may be a good way to organize, but are they working on the highest impactful items? When you hear this response try responding with “What’s a realistic date you can get it to me?” And then really listen for the answer. Did they sigh? Did they list out a long litany of projects? Take care of your high-performers. Don’t let them drown themselves in work.

To sum up, keep in mind that employees aren’t going to divulge every indiscretion, issue, or concern openly and fully. You are their boss – they are fearful of the repercussions. Some may, but the majority will suffer in silence, or give you small clues about their needs. The key takeaway is – talk to your employees. Open communication can prevent misunderstandings or errors, not to mention, increase performance and team work. So when your spidey-sense is telling you something is wrong with what they said, did, or how they reacted – chances are, you’re right. But you’ll only ever know if you ask.

Are you listening?

Have you heard these before? Have you heard others? Let us know! 

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Christine Assaf

Christine Assaf is an experienced HR Professional with a passion for Social Media. Blogging for over three years Christine started, a professional blog, that talks about all these HR related – both from the manager and employee perspective. You will often find her on twitter exchanging HR wisdom from "behind the scenes." A conference speaking veteran, Christine enjoys helping job seekers with skills assessment, resume review, and mock interviews and coaching executives on best strategies. She is also an active participant in Toastmasters, plays Dungeons & Dragons, loves football and running. Christine’s wit and charm light up the “internet” with the perfect combo of HR knowledge and snark. You can connect with Christine on LinkedIn.


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